Art of Business: Work Your Art by Jen Cushman

Don’t be a Starving Artist: Work Your Art and Make a Living!

Don't be a Starving Artist!The idea of being a starving artist may be romantic, but it’s not very fun if you’re the one doing the starving! The good news is you don’t have to live the cliché. In her article “Art of Business: Work Your Art,” mixed-media artist Jen Cushman offers great tips and advice on how to sell your art and make a living. You can read an excerpt from the art business article below or read the complete article in the 2016 Artist’s & Graphic Designer’s Market or on Artist’s Market Online.

Keep creating and good luck!


Art of Business: Work Your Art by Jen Cushman

There’s a rampant stereotype that artists make poor business people. The archetype of the starving artist is so entrenched in our culture; it’s one of the most popular recurring themes in literature and filmmaking. It may be romantic to watch a movie about a tortured, sensitive artist, but it’s not so pleasant to see in real life. It’s also a cop-out. It’s easier to perpetuate this myth than it is to do the hard work it takes to create a successful art-based business.

. . . .

You may have to spend more time reading business and marketing advice books than you do making art. You may feel stressed as weeks fly by while you’re designing business cards or creating a mailing list, writing a blog, or setting up a website. It’s all good. Every time you feel stressed, remind yourself that you’re working to bust the myth of the starving artist. You’re showing yourself and the world that being a creative professional also means having business savvy. The world needs artists and makers, and we need to remind the world that being an artist is a viable profession.

Your ability to make a living off your art is in your hands, no one else’s.

Q: I’m successful at selling my work at craft fairs and festivals. I travel across the country and do lots of shows. It seems like at every show there are always one or two customers who like my work and really want to own a particular piece, but they always want to haggle on the price. Everything about these people screams that they have the cash to pay for it, but they just want a deal. What would you do?

A: Ahh, the deal seekers. These are the people who have money because they have the confidence to ask for what they want. But deal seekers are different from bargain hunters. Bargain hunters will choose Painting A over Painting B because of the $10 difference in the price tag, and are willing to settle for any painting of yours instead of the piece. Deal seekers are people who want Painting A, but want it for the same price as Painting B. They know that if you put a range of prices on your work to sell them—a smart marketing move on your part, by the way—everything you sell is potentially up for negotiation. Also, don’t forget there are people in this world who truly enjoy the art of negotiation.

. . . .

Q: I teach classes in my home studio, so teaching is part of my DNA. How do I begin teaching at retreats or conferences?

A: There are good artists and then there are good teachers, but they do not always go hand-in-hand. In my experience, the best teachers are the ones who deep down want their students to be successful, and feel as though it’s part of their calling to see them thrive. It’s terrific that you want to inspire others to succeed.

. . . .

In the end, successful classes are all about an exchange of positive energy and new ideas. Build your confidence and clientele first in your community and you’ll soon find opportunities coming your way for bigger gigs. I’m a believer in being a big fish in your small pond first before jumping too soon to another pond where you might wind up feeling like bait.

Jen Cushman is a former journalist who found mixed-media art 14 years ago and never looked back. She’s the author of Making Metal Jewelry; How to Stamp, Forge, Fold and Form Metal Jewelry Designs and Explore, Create, Resinate: Mixed Media Techniques Using ICE Resin. Jen writes the Mixed-Media Metalsmith column for Cloth Paper Scissors and teaches at CREATE Mixed-Media Retreats and at other national and international venues. She’s also Vice President/Partner of Susan Lenart Kazmer LLC/ICE Resin. and

Excerpted from the winter 2015 issue of Artists & Makers. Used with the kind permission of Artist’s & Makers, a publication of F+W, a Content + eCommerce Company.

2 thoughts on “Art of Business: Work Your Art by Jen Cushman

  1. Carla

    Most of the “galleries” that I find are co-op only. How does an artist find good honest galleries to show consistently not once a year in a rotation as do most co-ops, and pay monthly dues, must run the gallery 2x a month, pay commissions, bring food, plus all the duties? I am willing to give a slightly higher commission so the gallery handles sales and other duties so I can concentrate on my business?

    1. mbostic Post author

      Hi Carla,

      Thanks for stopping by! Artist’s Market Online has nearly 500 market listings for a variety of galleries, including co-ops, for-profit, nonprofit, wholesale, rental, museums, and alternative spaces. Listings can be narrowed down by geography so that you can find the galleries near you. If you’d like to take a look, you can sign up for a free 7-day trial subscription here:

      Thanks and good luck!



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